PHOTO | Cedric Jover | Creative Commons
Happy Valentine’s season to all the lovers and haters out there alike; whether you’re in the mood to turn down or snuggle in, I’ve got just what Cupid ordered. The tenth of February presented us with Canadian singer-songwriter (and I would argue, downright storyteller) Andy Shauf’s eighth release, “Norm.” Speaking of Cupid, “Norm” gets downright godlike- or, should I say, angelic.
Shauf is a mostly self-taught musician; he was born into an evangelical Christian family and began his professional musical career as a drummer for a Christian pop-punk band. His solo career, which he began in 2006 with his independent release, “Love and the memories of It,” has never been a stranger to religious themes. Shauf’s popularity heightened at the release of his third studio album, “The Party,” a concept album set at a house party, with a series of stories being told about the events that have taken place within a single night; it features his most popular song, “The Magician.”
Shauf has always been in tune with religious quandaries and philosophical discernment, as well as he has been adept at inhabiting a character and wearing a second skin for his recording performances. “Norm” takes these qualities to the next level, not only in perspective and sound but in painful, cerebral depth.
The opening track and lead single, “Wasted on You,” is written from the perspective of God and Jesus as a pair of partners spitballing and workshopping ideas on Christianity. “What happens when they die? / Maybe eternal life? / But only if they find me,” Shauf sings breezily in the first verse, introducing these themes with no pretense or grandeur- simple vocals over a backing track of woodwinds and synthesizers. It’s a haunting simplicity. This delicate conversation, a lazy back and forth between friends or lovers or father or son, is the basis of the concept for this record.
The tracks “Catch Your Eye” and “Telephone” introduce the main character of the album, lonely and loveless Norm, a man who is bound and determined to transcend the romance that he has created in his head into reality. Over the course of the album, Norm’s intentions become disoriented and skewed, on “You Didn’t See” the narration returns to God, who reveals that this is all taking place under His watchful eye. The rest of the album shows this struggle between Norm and God as more and more often Norm’s increasingly erratic behavior puts the object of his affections in danger.
It is a hugely interesting concept, with all of this intensely violent and romantic tension taking place lyrically, but vocally Shauf never strays too far from his barely-there songbird melodies. The sound stays muted and low, only rising and swelling with particularly expressive swells in the story. If you weren’t paying attention or listening to the tracklisting in order, you might not ever realize the significance of the perspective or songwriting. Each song is independently gorgeous and remarkable, soft but unwavering in its heartfelt, misguided romance.
Overall, I loved this project, and I am highly impressed with Shauf’s vocal and storytelling performance. This one is good to throw on the stereo for dinner, dancing, and developing unhealthy fixations on women you meet in the grocery store. Just kidding, don’t be like “Norm.” I give this album a 6.5/10.